United's New Premier Travel Bundles

By Ed Perkins

If you're looking for a coach flight that's a bit better than usual, consider buying one of United's new "Premier Travel" options. Both options bundle features that would cost more if you bought them separately. And although neither will give you a truly first-class experience, they can make a coach trip more bearable.

-- The basic option includes an extra-legroom seat in the "economy Plus" cabin, early boarding with the first seating group, access to the priority security screening lane (if available), access to special check-in lines, two checked bags without the usual fees, and an extra 25 percent on the base frequent flyer miles you earn.

-- The "Plus" option adds trip-day access to United's Red Carpet lounges at U.S. airports and double frequent flyer miles for your flights.

These options are available to/from most United airports in the United States and to international flights leaving the U.S. However, they do not apply to international flights to the U.S., and they do not apply to code-shared flights operated by other airlines.

To see how the options might play out in a real trip, I checked a sample round-trip from Portland, Ore., to Boston in mid-October. The base fare for the itinerary I chose is $388 plus $42.40 in taxes and fees, for a total of $430.40. On the eastbound flight, base Premier Travel adds $125, Premier Travel Plus adds $158; on the return, base adds $96 and Plus adds $129. Buying Premier Travel both ways adds a total of $219, Plus adds $283. Are these premier options good deals? Here are some comparisons:

-- Economy Plus seating on all legs, and nothing else, adds $166 for the round-trip.

-- Checking two bags, both ways, adds $80 round-trip

-- One-time Red Carpet passes currently add $39, so using the Clubrooms for both departures adds $78.

-- At the conservative value of 1 cent per mile, the bonus miles add a value of $12.50 total with base Premier Travel or $50 with the Plus level.

I can't really put a dollar value on the expedited check-in, security, and boarding processes.

How do the numbers work for my sample trip?

-- The base bundle beats separate buying by about $40 if you get Economy Plus seating and check two bags on all flights. However, if you check only one bag, you're slightly better off buying Economy Plus separately.

-- The Plus bundle beats separate purchase by $93 if you buy Economy Plus, check two bags, and use the Red Carpet room on both trips, and it's slightly better even if you don't check any bags.

United's pricing flexibility makes it almost impossible to form firm conclusions. The fees I show both for bundles and for Economy Plus seating apply to just one specific itinerary. For the same destinations, on the same days, and at the same fares, for example, I found other flight itineraries with higher Premier Travel and Economy Plus fees. I was unable to find any lower fees, but I might have if I'd spent a few more hours checking. And the numbers between other cities might also vary greatly.

United's improved Website now makes it easy to select the options you want. Once you've chosen the flights, you immediately get a menu that prices both Premier options and Economy Plus separately. And you can also select advance Economy Plus seat assignments. The only hard part is if you want to look for alternate itineraries on the same day with lower Premier and Economy Plus fees: You have to re-enter your name and contact information each time. I can easily see spending an hour or more just looking at fee options for one round-trip.

Overall, I commend United for yet another innovation. Sure, to the airline it's just another way to extract a few more dollars while keeping nominal list-price fares low. But in United's case, the options are truly worthwhile to many travelers. I know that I'll be using one of them on my next United flight.

© Ed Perkins

Vacation Travel - United's New Premier Travel Bundles